Operation Big Tow, a national initiative that began in the upper Mississippi River region Saturday, is using safety spot checks, vessel and operator credential examinations, and company audits to ensure towing vessels are being operated safely and are manned by properly licensed individuals. To minimize the impact to vessel movements or the flow of commerce, the Coast Guard is working with industry and towing vessel operators to conduct examinations at locks and dams, while vessels are tied up pierside, or through other methods that allow examiners to check licenses and conduct safety checks with minimal impact.
“We are extremely pleased to report that we have not found a single person operating without a license on the upper Mississippi and southern portion of the Illinois River,” said Lt. Rob McCaskey, Sector Upper Mississippi incident management chief.
Operation Big Tow was implemented in response to an incident in New Orleans in July in which a towing vessel and a tanker collided, spilling approximately 280,000 gallons of #6 fuel oil into the Mississippi River. Coast Guard investigators determined that the individual at the helm of the towing vessel improperly licensed.